Just this week, FEMA reminded us all that “exercises are a key component in ‘building a culture of preparedness,’ empowering communities and individuals to become more resilient against the threats and hazards that Americans face.”

It’s true. Post-incident critiques, per Ready.gov, often “confirm that experienced gained during exercises was the best way to prepare teams to respond effectively to an emergency.” That’s because exercises help ensure awareness and understanding of the emergency or continuity plan, and help stakeholders measure and improve their own performance. Plus, they help identify opportunities to improve capabilities organization- or community-wide in an actual event.

So where do you start in developing an exercise program?

You start with a clear understanding of your current Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) or Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). You start with basic tools like FEMA’s recently released Exercise Starter Kits, which support a simple, four-to-six hour tabletop exercise for four to 50 participants. And, if feasible, you start with experienced facilitators who can easily turn those starter kits into a fully customized and highly valuable exercise program for your organization or jurisdiction. After all, they are the ones who are uniquely qualified (and trained) to help build upon your plan’s strengths as well as identify ground truths so you can make any/all necessary improvements.

So who in your organization should be responsible for setting up the exercise program?

More often than not, it’s the same, almost-always overwhelmed person (or persons) responsible for developing your Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) or Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). They may be a Business Continuity Planner, Emergency Manager, Safety Manager, Operations Manager, etc., or someone wearing any combination of these “hats.” Or, they might be an outsider, i.e., a contractor, specializing in emergency/continuity planning, and Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP)-guided exercise programs. Regardless of who it is, and even with the use of starter kits and templates, there’s much work to be done to get an effective exercise program off the ground. Much less keep it going.

So how often should you conduct an exercise of your COOP or EOP?

The answer is, as often as possible or as required. But at least once per year. After all, some organizations may not have the time or resources to conduct an exercise, whether discussion- or operations-based, as regularly as they’d like. Others may have no choice as their source of grant funding drives the frequency and type of the exercises. Just do what you can as you can, or as you must, to keep your COOP or EOP up to date and actionable at all times.

So what’s next?

Regardless of where you are in the development or execution of your COOP/EOP exercise program, there’s value in standard tools like FEMA’s Exercise Starter Kits and templates. Just don’t get caught up in thinking they are the “be all, end all.” Starter kits are just that. They provide basic but essential items and instructions for taking up a particular activity or process for the first time.

Additional time, effort and potentially dollars will be required to take your exercise program to the next level and truly build a culture of preparedness within your organization and/or across the communities you serve.

With 10,000+ emergency, continuity and mitigation plans under its belt, BOLDplanning offers hands-on, expert assistance to facilitate HSEEP-guided exercises and training programs that support your overarching emergency preparedness goals. Email info@boldplanning.com or call 615.469.5558 to learn more now.